The SEO Gurus and Experts have been somewhat less vocal than usual over the past few months. It can be traced to the revelation by Mark Cutts at SMX Advanced in Seattle as reported by many including Lisa Barone and Dan Thies that basically nofollow might not work like people expected for sculpting PageRank. You might have expected that, if it did not work, this might already have been spotted by some of the gurus. However there was no hint anywhere that this might be so.
My colleague, Brian Carter, may well have been tuning into the same groundswell with his recent post, 4 Reasons Why SEO Blogging Sucks.
His four reasons were:
- Why Give Away Your Competitive Advantage?
- Theories About What Works in SEO Abound, But Are They Right?
- Few People Have And Disclose Solid SEO Research
- SEO Is Controversial, So Why Bother?
He might have added a 5th reason: it is unclear what can really be said with any authority about SEO.
Searching for SEO Truths
How do we then track down the truths. Some might say we should Go Straight to Google for SEO Truths. As one commenter put it:
Every now and then Matt Cutts will “reveal” something really interesting, but most of the stuff he talks about is common knowledge. Gotta test it on your own. It either works or it doesn’t. Trial and error. Don’t have to be a genius to get SEO down to a few easy processes. Reverse engineering is what it's all about.
David Berkowitz also gives assurance that You CAN Handle These SEO Truths
If you're looking to make sure you're covering all bases with search engine optimization, a good place to start is Rebecca Lieb's new book, "The Truth about Search Engine Optimization." You'll find 51 truths in this book, covering everything from link development to video optimization. They're bite-sized chunks, and if you feel well-versed in some areas but want some help with others, it's easy to flip around and read it in the order that matters most to you.
However not everyone agrees. Attempting to be controversial, Justin Brooke titled his book, SEO Lies | A Book About SEO Truths. He offers 5 SEO Lies You've Been Told:
- SEO Is Hard
- SEO Takes A Long Time
- You Need Lots Of Content
- Don't Use Duplicate Content
- NoFollow Links Don't Count
He strongly encourages you to get the book, and learn the truth. Many might strongly disagree with what he says, but this does illustrate the large differences in opinion that exist on SEO.
Using the word lies was deliberately provocative. However the same difference of opinion is shown by the more diplomatic word myth that some use. For example, Jill Whalen listed her Top Ten Organic SEO Myths
- You should submit your URLs to search engines.
- You need a Google Sitemap.
- You need to update your site frequently.
- PPC ads will help/hurt rankings.
- Your site will be banned if you ignore Google’s guidelines.
- Your site will be banned if you buy links.
- H1 (or any header tags) must be used for high rankings.
- Words in your meta keyword tag have to be used on the page.
- SEO copy must be 250 words in length.
- You need to optimize for the long tail.
Matt Cutts has also attempted to enlighten people on Some SEO myths. How can so many different theories continue to circulate on some of these issues? What makes it so difficult?
Why the SEO Truths Are So Elusive
One might question why there should continue to be so much confusion about what is true and what is not true in SEO. In fact, Google does provide a Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, dating back to November 2008. It can be downloaded via this link (PDF file).
The problem here is that search engine algorithms are continually evolving and hopefully improving in an attempt to produce ever more relevant query results. These algorithms include hundreds of factors and it is possible that even the Google engineers are not quite sure of how any given change may impact results. Google is reluctant to reveal too much since major websites might then attempt to game the system and ensure that the web pages are listed higher than they really deserve to be.
What is one to do? You could of course study the experts views for example in the SEOmoz Search Engine Ranking Factors 2009.
In some cases you will find a reasonable consensus and can perhaps treat such factors as true. However for many others you will find a wide range of opinions. What is a practical way of doing search engine optimization given all this uncertainty?
Truth is a very hard edged parameter. Given that we are trying to understand SEO as it applies to small websites of less than a hundred pages and large websites that may have hundreds of thousands of pages, it may be difficult to find truths that will apply whatever the size of the website. Nevertheless there are some basics that would apply in all cases.
If you read some of the material linked above, you will be able to develop your own list of key factors. My own listing of the key steps in SEO may provide a starting point here. A good way of checking whether you have covered all these basics is to see what the Google Webmaster Tools website has to offer as diagnostic information on your website
Where it gets difficult is when you try to work on more sophisticated SEO aspects of your website. The competitive positioning in your market sector may be changing over time. The search engine algorithms may be modified in a way wh
ich affects rankings. It may even be difficult to see how to do appropriate experimentation and be sure that you have really identified how to achieve optimal results that will endure.
The last two letters here are meant to signal Evolutionary Optimization, a somewhat complex methodology often applied to chemical processes with uncertain mechanisms. We only use the words here to help explain a concept. If optimization is thought to be a process of getting to the top of the hill, Evolutionary Optimization is concerned with merely getting a little higher on the hill, without knowing necessarily where the top of the hill is. In testing for SEO, we should have that same concept in mind.
SEEO then is Search Engine Evolutionary Optimization. We may never know the ultimate that is possible, but we are always looking for incremental improvement. Our split A/B tests should indicate which way to change to get a better result. However they are not guaranteed to be the final answer and an ongoing program of testing should always be done.
That extra E for Evolutionary is a powerful reminder that SEO is not something you do for a website and then forget. It is ongoing to identify when things are changing in unexpected ways. Doing EO you are constantly looking for better results. Sometimes you may even find it is needed to correct an erosion in rankings that changes in algorithms were causing.
This process will not give those long-term SEO truths for all websites that we may have sought. It will however give ways of improvement at this point in time for this particular website. Continuing testing will then confirm how to keep improving as the search world evolves.